Presented by the Queensland Art Gallery in association with the ENERGEX Brisbane Festival 2000
Exhibition dates: 30 September – 12 November 2000 | Website:

Anne Wallace

"Like many artists . . . I’m painting things which are about trying to beat time and the inexorable passing of it."

Anne Wallace was born in 1970 and completed a Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts) at the Queensland University of Technology in 1990. In 1993 she was awarded the Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship, which enabled her to complete a Masters qualification at the Slade School, London from 1994–96. In 1999 she received the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s Sulman Prize. Her work has recently been included in ‘Hitchcock’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1999 and in a survey exhibition at the Brisbane City Gallery, ‘Private Rooms: Anne Wallace — 10 Years of Paintings’, July–September 2000.


Anne Wallace practises figurative painting, an unusual pursuit in today’s contemporary art world. She often uses thumbnail sketches and snapshot photographs of everyday incidents as a basis for her paintings.

Wallace’s paintings sometimes contain autobiographical elements, but self-expression is not her main aim. She explores people’s obsessions and the bizarre nature of everyday life. A sense of menace and foreboding underlies her works.

Her oil paintings have been compared to cinematic stills. However, unlike film stills, these mysterious frozen images have no relationship to any past or future narrative. Nothing has happened nor will happen.

These enigmatic works play on the viewer’s frustrated attempts to discover a meaning or story. Of her work Wallace has said, "the very point is to not make sense of it".

Artist statement

There are at least two things I regret having said about my work. The first is that my work bears a relation to film; the second is that the pictures are like ‘unfinished narratives’.

It seems that once these ideas are introduced into any discussion of my painting, nothing at all else can be said about it. Perhaps I once was guilty of trying to dress up my old-fashioned practice — figurative painting — in a more contemporary guise, by bringing the 'hipper' medium of film into the equation. Having written about film and my painting in a short essay for a catalogue, I must now reap the consequences. However, in that piece of writing I did include the qualification that my paintings are not ‘about’ film but ‘about’ life, a statement which I would have thought naïve enough to separate me easily from contemporary artists who use film. However, that qualification seems not to have registered, and I find myself now being asked to talk about my work in terms of its ‘filmic quality’: a question which renders my mind utterly blank, except for the unwilled appearance of absurd images — the face of Bill Collins, for instance, or the snack counter at the Eldorado cinema — which flit across the blankness as if to ridicule my attempts to formulate an answer worthy of the question. The fact is that I watch a lot of movies because, like many people, I consider it to be one of the best ways to pass the time — and that is the extent of my engagement with film as a medium.

And it is true that I have painted images from certain old films — but only rarely, and only because the images were such that I felt compelled to do my own versions of them. For the most part, the images I paint are purely my own inventions. I take photos of a scene after having thought of it and then drawn it. I paint from the small 6 x 4 photo — as some would have it, ‘cheating’ but, as I would have it, quite hard work. I do not grid up the photo in order to scale it up onto the canvas because I enjoy the difficulty of trying to make something that small much larger, with no mechanical assistance in getting the proportions right. So my use of photography, too, is not intended to ‘disrupt the conventions’ of traditional painting by replacing the brain and eye with a process of mechanical reproduction. Rather, I like to think (or I flatter myself) that I am using it in the way Delacroix, Manet and Degas did — as a tool, not as a theoretical principle.

The other thing which has come back to haunt me is the notion that my works are ‘anti-narrative’. It is not that I have now come round to being classified, as I sometimes have been, as a ‘narrative painter’, but it’s just that talking about the works using the word ‘narrative’ has had a rather limiting effect. It seems very easy to say that my works are like a lot of alienating contemporary art in that they set up a situation which, on closer inspection, proves not to make any kind of sense — that they are precisely about nothing, that I use images without purpose, merely to create enigmatic conundra which, in the final analysis, are empty and meaningless. Or that ‘meaning’ arises only in the mind of the viewer, that the paintings are nothing without the viewer’s adding a solution in the form of their own subjective response. But I am not in the business of depicting things which only superficially appear to have specific meaning. It is not my intention only to provide the settings and characters to which the viewer can introduce an ‘ending’. Admittedly, I certainly have said that I’m trying to frustrate the viewer’s attempts to make sense of some of these things. But that isn’t the ultimate point of my work. The subject matter is such that this kind of semi-obfuscatory treatment of it is the only possible way I have of depicting it. It is the straining towards the meaning of something which is the emotion accompanying the actual experience of some of the things I am trying to depict — it is not just something arising artificially from the artwork, but this thing precedes it, in the experience of living.

How else to talk about my paintings? People say of my work that ‘it looks portentous and sinister, but perhaps only something mundane is actually happening’, or vice-versa. In other words, perhaps it’s about the sinister underlying the mundane — the unheimlich, the uncanny — but then again, maybe it’s not. I’m afraid that I’m not that theoretically minded to have developed a practice which is going to make sense in terms of the piles of post- Freudian literature on the subject of the uncanny. I must say that I don’t feel in such control of what I do that I can calmly write an ‘artist statement’ which intelligently and sensibly explains my work. It seems to me that I change my mind about it from month to month, almost.

Part of this uncertainty, or inability to think clearly about it, is no doubt due to my attempts never to repeat the same image. Of course, as it has been pointed out, my work is, in fact, very repetitive. Always images of people’s backs! That can remain an issue for some future analyst of mine to explain. Consciously, at least, I’m in fact trying not to work in series. I want the colours, compositions, ideas to be different in each painting. A more or less impossible task, but at least in this way I don’t create an artificial subject for myself which I can then mine ad nauseam. If I am compelled to repeat some things, it is because I genuinely can’t avoid it.

Apart from being more or less a traditional painter, although I’d hate to be labelled a ‘new traditionalist’, I also harbour old-fashioned ideas about uniqueness and authenticity when it comes to art. Far from just painting pictures which proceed from the assumption that all is relative, or that an image can have no intrinsic or transcendental meaning, I would like to be able to exert the kind of control over my ideas so that they do end up asserting themselves over myriad potential interpretations — a vain wish, undoubtedly. Like many artists or writers, I think, I’m painting things which are about trying to beat time and the inexorable passing of it. Perhaps if I paint pictures which are about the various ‘stages of life’, or about things which we invent to assert ourselves over the awful forwards movement of our own existences — such as romantic love or the enjoyable fear of the unknown — then I will have lived twice, the second time round by depicting it. Of course, having just written that and then running a few of my paintings through my head, I realise the incommensurability of the aim and the result. But I can only try.

Selected bibliography

Butler, Rex, ‘Anne Wallace’s confessions’, Art and Australia, Vol. 32, No. 3, 1995, pp. 390–95.

Butler, Rex, An Uncertain Smile, Artspace, Sydney 1996.

Colless, Edward; Ross, Toni, Anne Wallace: Recent Paintings, Brisbane: Edward Colless, Toni Ross, Anne Wallace, 1999.

Curnow, Ben, Primavera 1998 [exhibition catalogue], Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1998.

Engberg, Juliana, Lovers [exhibition catalogue], Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Melbourne, 1996.

Green, Charles, ‘Anne Wallace’, Eyeline No. 28, Spring 1995, pp. 31–32.

Herbert, Susan, ‘Anne Wallace: Virgins 1993’, in Out of the Void: Mad and Bad Women [exhibition catalogue], Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane, 1995.

Herbert, Susan, ‘Anne Wallace’, in Have a Look [exhibition catalogue], University Art Museum, University of Queensland, Brisbane, 1995.

Herbert, Susan, Artwork of the Month: March 1995, Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane, 1995.

Kubler, Alison, ‘Painting a verisimilitude’, in Sebastian [exhibition catalogue], Gold Coast City Art Gallery, 2000.

Michael, Linda, Things Visible and Invisible, [exhibition catalogue], Metro Arts, Brisbane, 1998.

Rooney, Robert, ‘Anne Wallace’, Eyeline no. 28, 1995, pp. 31–32.

Shingleton, Colin, ‘Anne Wallace’, Agenda, double issue nos 44–45, October 1995, p. 64.

Simpson, Colin and Williams, Donald, Art Now: Contemporary Art Post-1970, Book 2, McGraw-Hill, Sydney, 1996.

Spinks, Jennifer, ‘Mirror Mirror: Cruelty and Innocence in Recent Paintings by Louise Hearman, Mary Scott and Anne Wallace’, Art and Australia, vol. 35, no. 2, 1997, pp. 234–41.

Solo exhibitions


‘Private Rooms. Anne Wallace — 10 Years of Paintings’, Brisbane City Gallery, July–September 2000.


Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.


Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.


Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.


Darren Knight Gallery, Melbourne.


Darren Knight Gallery, Melbourne.

Group exhibitions


‘Sebastian’, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Queensland.


‘Primavera’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

‘Things Visible and Invisible’, Metro Arts, Brisbane.

‘In Absentia’, Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra.

‘Collaborations’ (with Eugene Carchesio), Bellas Gallery, Brisbane.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, Cameron House, Brisbane.


‘Slade Postgraduate Degree Show’, London.


‘Lovers’, Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Melbourne.

‘Salon 3 x 6’, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

‘Have a Look’, University Art Museum, University of Queensland, Brisbane


‘Samstag’, University of South Australia Art Museum, Adelaide

‘An Exotic Otherness: Crossing Brisbane Lines’, toured Australia.


‘Inaugural Exhibition’, Darren Knight Gallery, Melbourne.

‘Potential Space’, Warwick Regional Art Gallery, Warwick.


‘Nine Brisbane Artists’, The Butter Factory Contemporary Artspace, Dayboro.

Text © Queensland Art Gallery 2000. Reproduction is permitted for non-commercial, educational purposes only.

Printed from: